Recent Posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Columbia Eats: Menkoi Ramen House

The Free Times, Twitter and Facebook were stirring this past week in Columbia when word let out that a ramen house opened up in the Vista. Sato, who manages Columbia's Inakaya, had decided to open an a noodle shop in a the vacant spot next to Mojito's and across from Mellow Mushroom, providing hungry students and downtowners with one of the staples of Japanese culture. With all the buzz on Menkoi going on, I knew I just had to take the opportunity to stop by and take a bite of what's been all the rage.

The menu at Menkoi consists of a short list of ramen bowls in its few possible orientations were the dishes of choice, along with the typical list of Japanese sides such as gyoza and edamame. I decided to go for their most straightforward bowl of ramen, which came with slices of pork, a fish cake, some bean sprouts and a piece of nori while my friend opted for the spicy version.

Growing up with bowls of pho and ramen, I couldn't help but be a little on the judgmental side when it came to the review. The broth, for starters, was just average. Consisting of chicken, beef, and pork bones, it definitely had a certain sweetness to it, but lacked a number of aromatics to make me want to down the entire bowl. The spicy broth my friend had, however, packed a little more excitement to it and was something I may have considered slurping. The noodles tasted like they were housemade, and had a decent chewiness to them. The best part of the noodle bowl was easily the slices of pork, which had sopped up all the broth, making for a decently unctuous bite. The fish cake was also decent and sizeable; a nice punch of sweetness and texture to make the bowl more interesting, something that the bean sprouts also added to. Not being a big fan of nori, the giant piece in the bowl was less appealing for me, especially completely drowned in the broth after awhile. Overall, the ramen bowl was fine, but I think if I were to come back, the spicy ramen would certainly win out for me for it's greater complexity.

I also picked up a salmon rice cake to try out. I would probably not spend the couple of bucks for it again; it was a really small portion of salmon and only average rice cake. It's a neat novelty, but not worth the price of admission in my book. Grab a bowl of ramen (preferably spicy) and run with it. Overall, however, for a bowl of noodles I think I would still rather run to Pho Viet for it's namesake, but for the Vista area, I would say Menkoi is a fine addition that has the potential to be great in the future as they hone their craft. And with it being open late till 3 AM, Menkoi may be a students best friend after a long evening out in the Vista or during a dreaded exam cram.  

Menkoi Ramen House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Columbia Eats: Pawley's Front Porch Food Truck

Today's review is about as easy as it gets. Pawley's Front Porch needs little introduction to most locals. Food Network's Diner's, Drive-In's, and Dives somewhat immortalized the Five Points location two years ago as Columbia's go-to place for foodies venturing into the midlands, though whether or not they were quite ready to handle such a load is another question. Soon after their rise to stardom, however, they launched their mobile eats food truck, spreading their SC island burgers across the city. In many ways, I think the truck may be the best way to get a bite of Pawleys; though the main restaurants sweet potato fries and larger list of burgers and tacos are tempting, the truck itself has been known to crank out their very best burgers fast and quick, delivering the amazing bites that were promised from their television appearance, consistently hot and loaded the way they were meant to be.

A sign of the beast. The caw caw burger.
I visited their truck this past week at the Palmetto Tomato Festival, where they were featuring a couple of tomato burgers, such as this monstrosity scene above, the caw caw burger. Exploding with caramelized onions,  lettuce, caw caw bacon, jalapeno "pimp" cheese, pickled green tomatoes, and a perfectly medium-cooked locally sourced caw caw burger, it may have been one of the best I've had in recently memory, and for sure the best I've had in the Columbia area. Was it messy? Most definitely, but in a glorious way that was worth every dirty bite. The fries were fries, and as much as I love to eat them, they were probably something I would have been okay with doing without after slaying the beast. They could have been crispier for sure, but not a deal breaker for me at all after the burger. If you're roaming around town for lunch or dinner and you see spot Pawley's mobile eats around the corner, don't hesitate to stop and savor what might be Columbia's best burger.

Looking for the truck? Check their twitter at or their webpage at 

Pawleys Front Porch Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 13, 2012

Columbia Eats: The Diner

I've been really excited about trying The Diner, Columbia's new and much hyped family restaurant. Other fellow bloggers got to it pretty quickly, along with local media, praising their take on Southern staples and unique twist and turns on a few of the classics. It opened with a bit of a rocky start, but critics have said they've ironed out a lot of their early issues and hit their stride. Hearing that, I decided it was finally time to take my turn at the wheel and see what was going on at The Diner.

The menu at The Diner is pretty lean and muscular, with staples like sandwiches, burgers, and very diner-ish, but still Southern fare. I decided to go for the blue plate special of the day, fried trout with Charleston red rice and a Greek salad. I had high hopes for this dish, especially the red rice, but for me everything about it was kind of one note. Nothing was bad, but the salad was a salad, the red rice had a little bit of tomato with some kick - nothing memorable - and the fried trout was well, fried trout. Everything was seasoned fine and filling, but just lacking that wow factor to push it over the top. My friends ordered the meatloaf and chicken fried chicken, both of which were also nicely done, but neither claimed to be extraordinary in any way. Though we weren't necessarily disappointed with anything we had, nothing quite lived up to the hype that the Diner has acclaimed since it's opening. At least, not entree-wise.

Lemon-berry marscapone cake. Yum!
Desert, however, shimmered a little more with a nice variety of cake and chocolate dishes. Best of all was this lemon berry marscapone cake. Creamy, sweet, with a little tartness from the berries and sauce, it was a charming bite that sent the meal off on a much better note. I would come back just for a slice, and I very well might since there's a lack of great affordable cake slices around town. Compared to other desert dishes, this was definitely a bang-for-your-buck choice as well as the slice of pecan pie and brownie offered was just a bit on the small size for the same price.

Though I was disappointed in my experience, The Diner wasn't bad by any means, but rather simply just another solid, new offering for the Columbia area. In many ways, I think I still would rather frequent a place like Yesterday's which offers much of the same fare. The Diner is a touch cheaper then its Five Points competition, but for dishes like the meatloaf and chicken fried chicken, I believe Yesterday's edges the Diner out on quality and quantity for that matter. There is still brunch at the Diner for me to venture to, which I have heard good, even great things about, especially their chicken and waffles. Outside of that though, the Diner is worth a visit for a little change of scenery at the dinner table, but it shouldn't be shifting the masses in its general direction quite yet from what I've had.

The Diner on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the Prowl: Rosewood Market and Deli in Columbia, SC

A busy day running errands and a desire for something cheap, healthy and tasty led me to Rosewood Market today for a quick bite to eat. Columbia's best natural foods store has been a staple of the Rosewood   area since 1973 (!), providing locals with both healthy food options and a quaint deli selection of local gourmet items. They're also are proud to be one of the most environmentally friendly stores in the midlands; whether they are sending their compost to nearby neighbor City Roots or reusing boxes by giving them to Harvest Hope Food Bank, Rosewood Market is always looking for ways to maintain a healthy message both in their food and values. It doesn't hurt that their food is pretty tasty too.

The deli at Rosewood is a lot different from your average deli, providing a host of select seasonal gourmet items including pasta and vegetable salads, various quiches and European/Middle Eastern baked items. Though it is a health food store carrying mostly vegetarian offerings, you can still find some pretty soul-satisfying dishes here to help ignore your carnivore cravings. Today I decided to go for something quick and cool for the hot summer weather, opting for a small portion of their gazpacho along with an enticing spinach and cheese biscuits. The biscuit was spot on: flaky, cheesy, and buttery soft, it was a great side to go along with the zesty, vegetable-packed gazpacho, all of which only set me back for well under $5.

Perhaps the best part about shopping at Rosewood is their selection of bulk bin items. Whether you need lentils, grains, quinoa, or other bulk items, there's a good chance Rosewood has it, and for prices that won't leaving you reeling. If you cook with any of these items on a regular basis, then Rosewood Market is definitely the place you want to be running to. The portions are good, the people are friendly, the food is great, and the prices are reasonable. What more could you ask for? Support local and check them out when you are in the Rosewood area. 

Rosewood Market and Deli on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 6, 2012

Greenville (NC) Eats: Chef and the Farmer

Chef and the Farmer's sausage and biscuits.
Dinner at Chef and the Farmer was, for me, one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. I know that is a line usually best kept for the end, but it really was that memorable and influential. In fact, this post is almost over a month and a half after the said dinner, just enough time to sit back and reflect on one of the most thoughtful meals in recent memory. The fact that a chef like Vivian Howard, who could have easily worked anywhere she wanted with the skills she has, and co-owner Ben Knight opened Chef and the Farmer, a really high-class eatery using local-just-about-everything food to produce some truly contemporary eating in the tiny town of Kinston, whose population barely registers on the map, is kind of a miracle itself. With all the awards and praise this restaurant has received since its opening in 2006, it still shocks me that this culinary experience, this really unforgettable night I had there started with something as plain, ordinary and Southern as sausage and biscuits.

Of course, these weren't ordinary sausage and biscuits, but delicate, ultra-buttery and indulgent sausage and biscuits using local pork and its drippings to perfection. A simple slab of mustard sets it over the top, making for an eye-opening starter. 

Dinner was a whirlwind affair at our table, in a good way that is, as it was a friend's birthday. A plethora of dishes rained down upon our cozy spot right next to the kitchen, including: wood-fired oysters, wood-fired clam and shrimp and grits, a chef and the farm burger using local cattle, another sausage dish with roasted squash, cauliflower, and thinly sliced radishes, a deceptively simple-looking plate of roasted carrots and beets, pan-seared trout on roasted turnips and wilted turnip greens on a sweet onion bisque, and their cast-iron pimento grits with bacon. 

Wood-fired clams and shrimp and grits.

Our feast was just flat out delicious from top-to-bottom, but the standout for me was definitely the trout, with its perfectly roasted turnips and turnip greens soaking up the sweet onion bisque. Just perfect. The roasted beet and carrot dish, with a lemon aioli and bread crumbs was also dynamite all-around. Chef and the Farmer really knows how to crank great depths of flavor out of the simplest of ingredients, making their dishes stand out and pop. 

It being a birthday, we of course had to grab desert (although, being at Chef and the Farmer is reason enough for desert!). We had some really amazing food already, but this dish, this zucchini crumble with cinnamon brown sugar ice cream on top was just phenomenal. The zucchini was cooked down to perfection; sweet, yet subtle, it has kind of the texture of a peach cobbler  but with a milder taste that was just spot on with the ice cream. We also ordered a buttermilk sorbet with blueberries, which seemed so ordinary on paper but was an absolute "ah-ha!" moment the second one of us at the table took a bite. 

My two years in Greenville has led me to a lot of eateries, some good - even great - but Chef and the Farmer stands miles above them all as one of the best places I've eaten not just in the Greenville area, but in general. This was a meal that might not even had happen if it were any later, as a fire that devastated portions of the facility shut down the restaurant from January to late April. Through some perseverance, however, they reopened, and are back to making the best food East Carolina has to offer. 

Chef & The Farmer on Urbanspoon